The Denver Broncos are playing an absolutely critical game against the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon. After two straight road games against tough AFC opponents, the Broncos will take their act back to Invesco Field at Mile High in a game that has somewhat of a homecoming feel.
But the Broncos are coming home a little bit banged up. Five key defensive players, including three starters, will be out for Sunday's game against the Jets. The Jets, like the Ravens, are a physical offensive team who like to run the ball down your throat to set up the pass.
Defensively, Rex Ryan is a guy who will put all of his chips in the middle of the table on every play. He has unparalleled confidence in his cornerbacks, as he will put them on an "island" much of the time and blitz an extra two or three guys nearly every play.
The Broncos are going to see a lot of similar looks this week as they saw last week. The Jets are a very tough team. They are a lot like the Ravens, which comes as no surprise because their head coach comes from Baltimore.
Right now, the Broncos are facing their biggest test of the year. Can they beat a good team at home, and can they prove that they will fight in the AFC until the very end? Last year, they laid an egg after the bye week, and finished the season with eight losses in their last ten games. This year, the Broncos have had a ton of injuries, and they will need some guys to step their game up exponentially if they are going to hang with the Jets.
Here are five predictions for the Broncos-Jets game on Sunday.
1. Kyle Orton Will Throw Three Touchdown Passes
This isn't an overly bold prediction, but it's something that I think absolutely needs to and will happen. Kyle Orton is having a fantastic season so far. The Broncos are only 2-3, but Orton has done everything in his power to help this team win. He has been far from perfect, but he could be the reason the Broncos win this game on Sunday.
The Jets' most glaring weakness is obviously their pass defense, which ranks 23rd in the NFL. Darrelle Revis is questionable heading into the weekend, and the rumor right now is that he is unlikely to play. He didn't look right against the Vikings, so even if he does play, it might not be the worst thing for the Broncos.
Orton is averaging nearly 350 yards per contest this year, but I think he'd trade any number of those yards for a couple more touchdown passes. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect Orton to throw a touchdown for every 100 yards he throws. If he's not throwing a touchdown every 100 yards, then his yards are almost completely pointless unless the Broncos have a large amount of rushing touchdowns, which they do not.
Orton will have all hands on deck on Sunday in terms of his receiving corps, so he will be able to spread the ball all over the place. Brandon Lloyd has been the big play man all year, Jabar Gaffney is on pace for 100 receptions, Eddie Royal has looked like the Eddie we knew back in 2008, and Demaryius Thomas has shown flashes of brilliance.
This will be a huge game for Kyle Orton. A coming out party of sorts, and I think he will take advantage. The Jets have a good defense, one of the best the NFL has to offer. Orton and the Broncos need to make a statement, and I think they will do that by throwing for three touchdowns (of course, more is acceptable).
2. The Running Backs Will be Active and Productive
This could be the first week that we see what Josh McDaniels had in mind when he traded for Laurence Maroney. He obviously doesn't want Maroney to be the featured back, as that role will go to Knowshon Moreno. Moreno's presence immediately makes the running game better, and as the offensive line continues to build chemistry, I think the running game will continue to improve.
I still think this game will feature a lot of passing, and the backs will be active. The Jets blitz a ton, so throwing some quick screens to the back or making some designed plays for them out of the backfield will most likely be in the game plan. If Knowshon plays, he is our best pass receiving running back. We saw what he is capable of earlier this season when he had a huge run against the Seahawks. This kid is a talent, and he is best when he's in open space where he can use his quickness and power on the run.
Maroney and Buckhalter have both been butterfingers this year at times, but they are also both good in open space. If we can get them involved in the passing game, we should be able to establish the short pass as somewhat of a running game to keep the Jets honest.
3. The Defense Will Not Give up 200 Yards Rushing
OK, so this isn't a bold prediction either, but after last week's performance, many of us are worried. The Jets have a very good offensive line, as well as two very good running backs. They are undoubtedly going to be hard to stop on the ground, but the Broncos did it against the Tennessee Titans, so why can't they do it against the Jets?
The Titans also have a very good, very physical offensive line and an even better back than the Jets have. It's not impossible to stop the Jets' rushing attack, and the Broncos are certainly capable of doing it. Not having Brian Dawkins and Robert Ayers definitely hurts your chances, but this team has responded to similar adversity on the offensive side of the ball.
I think the Broncos will key in on the Jets' rushing attack. They will stack the box with eight guys, and they will be aggressive. Don Martindale worked with Rex Ryan at Cincinnati, so they share a strong bond. Martindale has not been nearly as aggressive as Ryan in his short tenure as a coordinator, but this week will be different.
The Jets' offense is extremely efficient because of their ability to run the ball. They have a bunch of good wide receivers so you have to respect the pass, but the Broncos are going to be confident that one side of the field is shut down with Champ Bailey, and Perrish Cox will be on an island with David Bruton or Nate Jones behind him.
The Broncos need to make Mark Sanchez beat them, because that is the area of the Jets' offense that has not really been tested this year. This offense become relatively anemic when the running game is not going, which obviously is rare. Mark Sanchez is a great motivator and game manager, but he has not had to get in many shootouts.
4. Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt Will be Key
This is a huge key for the Broncos. Brad Smith is a great return man, but in the mile high air, it's doubtful that he will be returning much of anything. Matt Prater has a booming foot, and he will consistently provide the Jets with long fields on kickoffs.
Britton Colquitt struggled a bit against the Ravens, but he has a booming foot, especially at home.
These two guys need to pin the Jets deep on a consistent basis in order for the rest of their game plan to come to fruition.
5. The Broncos Will Win
Yes, I do believe this will all of my heart. And my head. I don't think the Broncos are going to have to catch the Jets on an off week, and I don't believe they are going to have to catch them napping either. The Broncos are going to get the Jets' best, and they are going to beat them straight up.
The Broncos will implement the passing game early, and force the Jets to respect their vertical attack. The Jets will try to run early, but the Broncos will be keying on that. They will have a tough time getting all the way down the field running the ball, so they will have to utilize the passing game a lot.
I am not saying the Broncos are going to crush these guys. I think it will be a fine game. But I think the Broncos, who are playing at home, who are desperate for a win, will get this one. I think this game will be the beginning of a nice little first half run for Denver, which has a bye week in three weeks. They are going to be more mentally prepared for this game, and they will not make so many bone-headed mistakes.
Perhaps my confidence is unwarranted, but I believe this team is ready to fight back. We saw some gutsy early season wins last year for the Broncos when they seemed to be the underdog. This year is no different. Kyle Orton and the offense will improve in the red zone, the Broncos' defense will tighten up, and they will respond to all the adversity and doubt and win this game.